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Crusaders will be fired up to reclaim title next season, warns O'Neill

 

By Graham Luney

Sean O'Neill says Crusaders will regroup and be back to wrestle the Gibson Cup off Linfield.

The Crues stumbled in the final straight, allowing the Blues to win their first championship since 2012, and while Stephen Baxter's side were unable to grab silverware, Linfield celebrated a trophy treble by lifting the County Antrim Shield, Gibson Cup and Tennent's Irish Cup.

It's well documented that the Shore Road side, who were chasing three titles in a row, were nine points clear in February, but an astonishing finish to the season by the Blues, a run that secured 43 out of a possible 45 points, proved decisive.

Crusaders have a long summer to reflect on what went wrong, but sometimes you have to tip your hat to the opposition, and David Healy's men found a big game mentality this season.

Shot-stopper O'Neill, whose side lost 3-0 at Ballymena United in their penultimate league battle to allow Linfield to seize the initiative, admits his side didn't deserve to win the league but he expects them to hit back in style.

"I was more proud when the season ended even though there was no getting away from the disappointment of how things finished," said O'Neill.

"I have always said the league table doesn't lie. After 38 games if you are second that is where you deserve to be and if you are first you deserve it. Linfield were worthy winners but we will be back, I can assure you of that."

Only Linfield and Belfast Celtic have three titles on the spin, so for Crusaders to come so close to that feat was quite an achievement, but the north Belfast side couldn't rewrite the history books.

"To be nearly earning the three in a row was a good effort and we did beat last season's points tally," added O'Neill.

"In other years our results may have been good enough to win the league but not this year and that is the way it goes. We know what we have to do, the boys will work harder and this club knows what it takes to win titles.

"In the last few months we have fallen a bit short but that won't happen again. It's the loyal supporters who come to watch the club week after week who I am most sorry for."

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